Let me start off with this disclaimer: I am a Detroit Lions’ fan. While that might exclude me from having a valid opinion about anything regarding NFL football (since I haven’t seen anything remotely like a professional team since Barry Sanders carried the ball), I do have some insight into the NFL preseason and its worth.
Does the NFL Preseason matter?
Two years ago the Detroit Lions went undefeated in the preseason. This was also the year they set the record for being the most hopeless NFL team ever by going 0 and 16. In the preseason, teams only play their starters a quarter or two at best and usually not at all in the final preseason game. Trying to gauge a team based on preseason play is like trying to judge a movie by its trailer. What looks like a blockbuster in a few minutes may be a flop when stretched into a feature.
Yes, it is important to ease the players into the meaningful regular season games. But isn’t this what practice is for? High school and college teams have no preseason and NFL athletes are far superior. The preseason seems more like an exercise in futility – especially for the ones who pay for it, the fans.
Fans voraciously await the real NFL games. So much so that preseason games are anticipated once the final draft analysis is done and the long summer boils over. Like a trip across the desert, preseason games are drips from a nearly empty canteen while the regular season is the real oasis, ripe with glistening pools of water and NFL cheerleaders serving grapes.
But what about players getting hurt?
The health of NFL players is a valid point of discussion when considering preseason games. It is why most teams rest their starters for more than 50% of the games. But players get hurt in the preseason as well. All it takes is one snap for a concussion or a broken leg to ruin a team’s season – not to mention a player’s career.
Terrell Owens, Carson Palmer, Steve Smith are some of the notable players injured in the 2009 preseason games. Many more than that were injured in practice before the first preseason snap even took place. Perhaps the slowed down pace of practices and preseason games actually put the players in danger. I imagine that trying to stay focused in the preseason leads to missed assignments and more injuries.
The same can be said of the games near the end of the year, when teams bound for the playoff keep their best players on the sidelines. Fear of getting hurt is a valid argument but preseason or not, a player’s chances of getting hurt do not diminish.
What about the money?
Tickets for preseason games are the same for regular season games and if the NFL were to shorten the preseason it would include lengthening the regular season. This would keep the coffers of NFL owners spilling over while at the same time providing more relevant games for the fans. Some argue that adding games to the regular season would increase the chance for injury but we’ve covered that point. In fact, a longer regular season would likely give the elite teams more breathing room at the end of the season and more opportunities to rest key players.
When the clock reads all zeros at the end of the game, it would be nice to know that the previous 60 minutes were worth the price of admission. It would also be nice for the unfortunate players who do sustain injuries to know that they did so in a game that actually mattered. Plus shortening the preseason and adding a couple regular season games would give a team a chance at 0 and 18 and erasing the woeful Detroit Lions from the history books as the most inept NFL team ever.